The Oregon House passed a controversial bill Wednesday afternoon aimed at making the state less attractive to illegal immigrants by tightening restrictions on obtaining a driver's license or identification card.
The bill passed 45-15 in the House, with all dissenting votes coming from Democrats. The bill will head to Gov. Ted Kulongoski's desk for final approval.
Senate Bill 1080 requires proof of legal residency in the U.S. and a Social Security number before any person may obtain a driver's license, driving permit or identification card. Foreigners can only qualify for one of these identifications for the length of stay authorized on their visa.
Oregon will join the 44 other states that require proof of residency, and some legislators feel the state is doing what should be the federal government's job.
"The real issue is that the federal government has fallen down on the job. Immigration is the job of the federal government to regulate," said Russ Kelly, spokesman for House Speaker Jeff Merkley, D-Portland. "They've turned a blind eye and now we have the situation we are in."
A group of about 1,000 protesters gathered in front of the state capitol earlier this month to protest the bill. Many who oppose it argue that the bill will only exacerbate the problem of illegal immigrants driving without licenses or insurance, which could lead to more hit-and-run accidents and injuries.
But supporters have said the bill accomplishes more than just driving restrictions.
Driver's licenses are more than just a right to drive a vehicle; they have come to represent a government document that is used for much more, Kelly said.
The bill was also designed to limit the access identity thieves have to obtain false identification.
"SB 1080 gives Oregon a strong tool to combat identity theft and other types of fraud," said House Republican Leader Bruce Hanna, R-Roseburg, in a statement.
This bill was the first Republican priority passed by the House and Senate in the 2008 special legislative session.
"Oregon will no longer be a magnet for people seeking to obtain fraudulent driver's licenses and ID cards," Hanna said. "Republicans have worked to pass similar legislation in previous sessions, but 2008 is better late than never."
The GOP has pushed for this legislation long before this session and praised Kulongoski when he passed an executive order last November that designated the Department of Motor Vehicles operate under rules similar to those this bill will impose.
The DMV has been operating under these restrictions since the governor's order went into effect on Feb. 4, and Kulongoski is expected to sign the bill into law sometime next week.
© 2008 Oregon Daily Emerald via U-WIRE